Let me start this off by saying that Chris Brogan is one smart person and I have a lot of respect for the man. He is one of the brightest; and best in my opinion, writers on this idea of social media. However I noticed something over the past week or so – his tone; or maybe his set of concepts around social media has been shifting.
Previously I had the impression that much of what he wrote was about social media on a large scale; or bigness as I phrased it in an email to him. What I have read in the past week or so seem to point to a shift in his thinking more along the lines of small social media; or as he phrased in a post very early this morning – cafe-shaped conversations.
Changing the shape of the conversation
If this shift in his thinking is indeed the case then for me this is a well signaled change in how social media could move forward. After all someone as well respected as Chris is doesn’t shift without some very serious and deep seated reasons. He is someone that is listened to and conversations he starts do make a difference. I’m not alone in this either as evidenced by Robert Scoble’s comment about Chris’s post on FriendFeed
Brogan is doing the most interesting thinking of social media, communities, conversations out there. - Robert Scoble
Now, I’ve spent the better part of today going over Chris’s recent posts trying very hard to piece together a germ of a thought that both his last post plus our short email exchange started. In effect this post is kind of a verbal effort to try to piece it all together in some sort of coherent fashion; but isn’t that what having a conversation is all about. Rather than a solid structure in which you point form your thoughts or ideas that you already have shouldn’t a conversation here be just as ‘semi’ freeform as when people are face to face?
Much of the social media philosophy currently in place today has been one of it being a totality that we have to deal with. Social media is big and everything is a part of that bigness. The people and all their conversations are part of a single social media ecosphere. All the services within that single ecosphere are vying for our attention in order to be our social media endpoint. After all the more people using any one service makes it potentially more profitable and in the end that is why these services are provided – the need to make money of some type.
Businesses are being sold on this idea of a unified social media network that they can be tapped into. A single entity that they can get their heads wrapped around; but what if this isn’t the case?
Suppose the conversation(s) taking place weren’t a part of something large but in fact were just small islands of conversations joined together by those services. What if rather than the services being the connectors it was the conversations?
Social Media as an Internet Tinker Toy set
Whether it be services like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or FriendFeed, businesses; and people, are being told that they need to be on all of these social services. They need to be there so that they can manage (protect) their brands, to make themselves as available to as many people as possible because that is the mantra – bigger is better.
After all this is the corporate mindset we are dealing with. The global village, the global economy. It is all about bigness and being able to convince corporations that social media is big enough to warrant their attention. With that attention of course comes the real reason to go big – that’s were the money is. As far as the corporations are concerned big is the ticket because that is their mentality. The mentality of getting the biggest bang for the smallest buck possible.
What if the reality of social media is different than that?
What if social media is all about the smaller conversations and these services are nothing more than the tubes allowing us to travel between conversations. Much like the sticks holding together wooden disks – or hubs of conversation – in those Tinker Toy sets from my childhood.
What is the value to corporations then; or do they even care?
If social media is about all the conversations I might be having at any one time rather than the services I use to get to those conversations how does this impact corporations?
How does this impact those services?
Shifting from service valued social media to a conversation valued one
At this point in the gestation of social media we are still being led to believe that bigger is the way to go. We are being told that we should be joining not only the biggest and hottest of the services but also the newest. We need to make the services the drawing card for businesses and the conversations are secondary. It is like social media is WalMart and the services are just the different departments in the store that we shuttle between.
With his cafe-shaped conversation idea Chris has begun questioning this notion; as it should be. As he says in his post
I think we’re moving towards something and I don’t think it’s going to be an easy shift. I don’t think social media just plugs into the marketing mix, though sometimes others prove me wrong. Alan Scott, CMO for the Dow Jones shared his 2008 marketing spend and there wasn’t a dollar allocated to social media. Instead, he used social media as just another card in the marketing deck. He doesn’t treat it poorly. He just doesn’t call it out as anything really different.
For the rest of the world, I believe that there will be some issues with how social media delivers. I think some companies will want big conversations, mass messaging, when what we’re offering are cafe conversations. We’re offering the intimate, the personal, the chance to talk in numbers of dozens and hundreds, and to make the appropriate kind of impact.
It doesn’t matter if I use Twitter, Facebook or FriendFeed to move between conversations. What matters is the conversation. That is what has the value. It matters what I am saying in one conversation – the cafe – or the same subject but with different people – the corner store – and then another set of people an possibly the same topic – the park with friends. That is what people and businesses are interested in not how we got there.
Where we have the value not the services
What we need to realize is that it doesn’t matter how big the services is that you are on or how many of them. That is just the marketing of the services and businesses herding us together to maximize their bang for the buck. Businesses don’t want to invest any more time or effort than absolutely necessary. for them the value of social media becomes diluted the more they have to spread out their involvement. For the services it means too many fish in the sea and make it harder to turn themselves into a bigger target for the whales.
What we need to realize is that for social media to work we have to understand it is about us. It is about making it easier to have conversations with our friends – it isn’t about making it easier for businesses to market to us. We don’t need to be in every single social media transport service in order to have conversations with friends. As Chris said in another post we don’t have to touch every conversation and we shouldn’t be conned into believing that we do.
I believe; like Chris, that the whole idea of what makes up social media is going to change. The problem is will businesses be willing to sit down at the cafe with any of us with no guarantee that we will let them join the conversation?
Will they be willing to chew the fat with you and your friends at the park without seeing an immediate ROI?
Will they be willing to understand it is our conversations that have the value – not theirs?
Social media may think it has changed the playing field but I think it might not be the field that everyone thinks it is; and that is going to be a shock to a lot of people – and businesses.
I hope they’re ready.
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